FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was no more forthcoming on Monday about his surprise benching of one-time Super Bowl star Malcolm Butler.
Speaking on a conference call the day after the Patriots blew their chance at a sixth NFL title with a 41-33 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Belichick said “there are a lot of things that go into that.” He declined to be specific.
Butler’s interception in the end zone in the final minute of the Super Bowl against Seattle clinched New England’s 2014 NFL championship. He had been one of the Patriots’ steadiest players this season, appearing in 98 percent of the defensive snaps and starting 17 of 18 games this season.
But the defensive back made it on the field for only one play on Sunday — on special teams. He appeared to be crying during the national anthem. And after the game, he told ESPN that the Patriots “gave up on me. (Expletive). It is what it is. I don’t know what it was. I guess I wasn’t playing good or they didn’t feel comfortable. I don’t know. But I could have changed that game.”
Belichick said on Monday: “I respect Malcolm’s competitiveness, and I’m sure that he felt like he could have helped. I’m sure other players felt the same way.”
Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower took a passive-aggressive jab at his head coach by liking a critical Instagram post from former teammate Brandon Browner, who wrote this under a caption of Belichick after the Super Bowl: “Lost the game for us tonight. Stupid decision and makes no sense. You make the decision to give us the best chance to win. But u don’t play your best cornerback.”
“A locker room was divided pre game,” Browner wrote in a second post.
Browner posted another Instagram message Monday suggesting that Butler was caught with marijuana at some point before the big game and violated team curfew.
Butler was not available to the media after the team’s buses returned to their home stadium on Monday afternoon. Only a few dozen fans were waiting to greet them.
Only one player commented, defensive lineman Eric Lee.
“That doesn’t concern me at all,” he said when asked about Butler’s benching. “I’m the wrong person to talk to about that.”
Butler’s locker had unopened packages loaded in front of it. On the shelves were game balls; at the bottom was a stack of cleats.
Butler is an unrestricted free agent this offseason. He’s one of many holes the team would need to fill from a defense that gave up 538 yards in the Super Bowl.
Another is defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, who was hired as the head coach of the Detroit Lions on Monday. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is expected to get the top job in Indianapolis this week.
Belichick and owner Robert Kraft are also scheduled to meet to clear the air over the trade of Jimmy Garoppolo that left the Patriots without a successor to 40-year-old Tom Brady at quarterback.